David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 3 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 5-7 (Conclusion)

— 5.5 —

The battle was over, and King Edward IV was triumphant. King Edward IV, Duke Richard of Gloucester, and Duke George of Clarence stood together with their prisoners: Queen Margaret, the Earl of Oxford, and the Duke of Somerset. Many Yorkist soldiers were present.

King Edward IV said, “Now here ends our tumultuous broils. Take the Earl of Oxford away to Hames Castle immediately. As for the Duke of Somerset, cut off his guilty head. Go, take them away; I will not hear them speak.”

The Earl of Oxford said, “For my part, I’ll not trouble you with words.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “Nor will I, but I bow with patience to my ill fortune.”

Queen Margaret said to the Earl of Oxford and the Duke of Somerset, “So part we sadly in this troublous world, but we will meet with joy in the sweet city of Jerusalem in Heaven.”

Guards took away the Earl of Oxford and the Duke of Somerset.

King Edward IV said, “Has the proclamation been made that whoever finds Prince Edward, Queen Margaret’s son, shall have a large reward, and Prince Edward shall keep his life?”

“The proclamation has been made,” Duke Richard of Gloucester said, “and look, here comes the youthful Prince Edward!”

Soldiers arrived, bringing Prince Edward.

King Edward IV said, “Bring forth the gallant, and let us hear him speak. What! Can so young a thorn begin to prick? Prince Edward, what penalty can you pay for bearing arms, for stirring up my subjects to rebel against me, and for all the trouble you have caused me?”

Prince Edward replied, “Speak like a subject, proud ambitious York! Suppose that I am now my father’s mouthpiece. Resign your throne, and where I stand kneel before me, while I say the same questions to you, traitor, which you would have me answer.”

Queen Margaret said, “I wish that your father had been so resolute!”

Duke Richard of Gloucester said, “If he had been, then you might always have worn the petticoat, and never have stolen the pants from your husband, Henry VI, and worn them.”

Prince Edward said, “Let Aesop tell false fables during a winter’s night; Richard’s currish riddles are not suitable for this place.”

Aesop was popularly supposed to be hunchbacked like Richard. The word “currish” meant “like a cur, aka a mean-spirited dog.”

Duke Richard of Gloucester said, “By Heaven, brat, I’ll plague you for that word.”

Queen Margaret said, “True, you were born to be a plague to men.”

“For God’s sake, take away this captive scold,” Duke Richard of Gloucester said.

“No,” Prince Edward said. “Instead, take away this scolding hunchback.”

“Be quiet, willful boy, or I will put a charm on your tongue to make it silent,” King Edward IV said.

“Untutored, badly raised lad, you are too malapert and impudent,” Duke George of Clarence said.

“I know my duty,” Prince Edward said. “You are all undutiful. Lascivious Edward, and you perjured George, and you misshapen Dick, I tell you all that I am your better, traitors as you are, and you have usurped my father’s right and mine.”

King Edward IV stabbed Prince Edward and said, “Take that, you likeness of this railer — Queen Margaret — here.”

Duke Richard of Gloucester stabbed Prince Edward and said, “Are you suffering your death throes? Take that, to end your agony.”

Duke George of Clarence stabbed Prince Edward and said, “And this is for twitting me with perjury.”

Prince Edward died.

Queen Margaret said, “Oh, kill me, too!”

“By Mother Mary, I shall,” Duke Richard of Gloucester said.

King Edward IV stopped him by saying, “Don’t, Richard, don’t; for we have already done too much.”

Duke Richard of Gloucester asked, “Why should Queen Margaret live? She will fill the world with words.”

Queen Margaret fainted.

King Edward IV said, “Does she swoon? Help her.”

During the commotion, Duke Richard of Gloucester said quietly to his brother Duke George of Clarence, “Clarence, excuse me to the King my brother. I’ll leave here and go to London on a serious matter. Before you come there, you will be sure to hear some news.”

“What? What?” Duke George of Clarence asked.

“The Tower! The Tower!” Duke Richard of Gloucester replied.

He exited.

Brought back to consciousness, Queen Margaret said, “Oh, Ned, sweet Ned! Speak to your mother, boy! Can’t you speak?

“Oh, traitors! Murderers! They who stabbed Julius Caesar shed no blood at all, did not offend, and did not deserve blame, if this foul deed were nearby to be compared to it. Julius Caesar was a man; this, in comparison, is a child. And men never expend their fury on a child.

“What’s worse than being a murderer, so that I may name it? No, no, my heart will burst, if I speak. And I will speak, so that my heart may burst. Butchers and villains! Bloody cannibals! How sweet a plant you have untimely cut!

“You have no children, butchers! If you had, the thought of them would have stirred up remorse. But if you ever chance to have a child, look in his youth to have him so cut off as, you deathmen and executioners, you have killed this sweet young Prince!”

King Edward IV said, “Take her away! Go and bear her forcibly away from here.”

Queen Margaret said, “No, never carry me away from here; instead, kill me here and now. Here in my chest sheathe your sword; I’ll pardon you for killing me. What, Edward IV, you will not? Then, Clarence, you do it.”

“I swear by Heaven that I will not cause you so much comfort,” Duke George of Clarence replied.

Queen Margaret said, “Good Clarence, do it; sweet Clarence, please do it.”

“Didn’t you hear me swear I would not do it?” Duke George of Clarence replied.

“Yes, I did, but you are used to committing perjury,” Queen Margaret said. “Committing perjury was a sin before, but now it is a charitable deed. Won’t you kill me?

“Where is that Devil’s butcher, ugly Richard? Richard, where are you? You are not here. Murder is your good deed. You never refuse those who petition you to shed other people’s blood.”

King Edward IV ordered, “Take her away, I say; I order you, carry her away from here.”

Queen Margaret said, “May what happened to my son the Prince happen to you and yours!”

Guards forcibly carried her away.

King Edward IV asked, “Where has Richard gone?”

Duke George of Clarence said, “To London, in all haste.”

He thought, And, I guess, to make a bloody supper in the Tower of London.

King Edward IV said, “Richard acts quickly, if an idea comes into his head.

“Now we will march away from here. Discharge the common soldiers with pay and thanks, and let’s go away to London and see how well our gentle Queen fares. By this time, I hope, she has given birth to a son for me.”

— 5.6 —

King Henry VI and a Lieutenant were in a room of the Tower of London when Duke Richard of Gloucester arrived. King Henry VI was reading a religious book.

Duke Richard of Gloucester said, “Good day, my lord. Studying your book so hard?”

“Yes, my good lord,” King Henry VI said. “I should say rather ‘my lord’ because it is a sin to flatter; ‘good’ is a ‘little’ better than you deserve and so it is flattery. ‘Good Gloucester’ and ‘good Devil’ are alike, and both are contrary to the way things should be; therefore, I ought not to call you ‘good lord.’”

Duke Richard of Gloucester said to the Lieutenant, “Sirrah, leave us to ourselves. We must confer.”

The Lieutenant exited.

King Henry VI, who suspected what was about to occur, and who may have had the gift of prophecy, said, “So flees the reckless shepherd from the wolf. So the harmless sheep first yields his fleece and next yields his throat to the butcher’s knife. What scene of death has the famous Roman tragedian Roscius now to act? How am I to die?”

Duke Richard of Gloucester replied, “Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind. The thief is afraid that each bush is an officer of the law.”

King Henry VI said, “After being trapped in a bush, with trembling wings a bird fears every bush. And I, the hapless father to one sweet bird, the Prince, now have the fatal object in my eye where my poor young bird was trapped, caught, and killed. I need not fear every bush because in front of me I see the bush that I ought to fear.”

Duke Richard of Gloucester said, “Why, what a peevish fool was that father of Crete, who taught his son the function of a foolish fowl! And yet, for all his wings, the fool was drowned.”

He was referring to the myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Imprisoned by King Minos on the island of Crete, they escaped after Daedalus fashioned wings made of wax and feathers. Icarus, however, flew too close to the hot Sun, which melted the wax of his wings, and he fell into the sea and drowned.

King Henry VI said, “I am Daedalus; my poor boy is Icarus; your father, the old Duke of York, is King Minos, who would not allow us to freely leave Crete; the sun that seared the wings of my sweet boy is your brother Edward; and you yourself are the sea whose malicious whirlpool swallowed up my son’s life. Ah, kill me with your weapon, not with words! My breast can better endure feeling your dagger’s point than my ears can endure hearing that tragic history.

“But why have you come? Have you come to take my life?”

Duke Richard of Gloucester asked, “Do you think that I am an executioner?”

“I am sure you are a persecutor,” King Henry VI said. “If murdering innocents is executing, why, then you are an executioner.”

“I killed your son for his presumption,” Duke Richard of Gloucester said.

“If you had been killed when you first presumed, then you would not have lived to kill a son of mine,” King Henry VI said. “And thus I prophesy that many a thousand people, who now mistrust no part of what I fear, and many an old man’s and many a widow’s sigh, and many an orphan’s tear-filled eye — men for their sons, wives for their husbands, and orphans for their parents’ untimely death — shall bitterly regret the hour that you were born.

“The owl shrieked at your birth — an evil sign. The night-crow cried, foretelling a luckless time. Dogs howled, and a hideous tempest shook down trees. The raven crouched on the chimney’s top, and chattering magpies sang dismal discords.

“Your mother felt more than a mother’s pain of childbirth, and yet brought forth less than a mother’s hope. I mean that she gave birth to an incomplete and deformed lump, not like the fruit expected from such a splendid tree as your mother.

“You had teeth in your head when you were born to signify that you came to bite the world. And, if the rest be true that I have heard, you came —”

“I’ll hear no more,” Duke Richard of Gloucester said. “Die, prophet, in the middle of your speech.”

He stabbed King Henry VI and said, “For this deed among the rest of my deeds, I was ordained. For such deeds I was born.”

“Yes, and for much more slaughter after this,” King Henry VI said.

As he died, King Henry VI said, “May God forgive my sins, and may God pardon you!”

Duke Richard of Gloucester said over King Henry VI’s corpse, “Will the ambitious, soaring blood of Lancaster sink into the ground? I thought it would have mounted into the sky. See how my sword weeps for the poor King’s death! Oh, may such bloody tears be always shed from those who wish the downfall of our House of York!

“If any spark of life is yet remaining, go down, down to Hell — and say I sent you there.”

Duke Richard of Gloucester stabbed King Henry VI’s corpse.

He continued, “I, who haven’t pity, love, or fear, sent you there. Indeed, what Henry VI told me is true, for I have often heard my mother say that I came into the world with my legs and feet first. Didn’t I have reason, you think, to make haste and seek the ruin of those who usurped our right? The midwife wondered and the women cried, ‘Oh, Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!’ And so I was, which plainly signified that I would snarl and bite and play the mean dog.

“So then, since the Heavens have misshaped my body, let Hell make my mind crooked to correspond to my crooked body.

“I have no brother, I am like no brother, and this word ‘love,’ which graybeards call divine, is resident in men who are like one another, but it is not resident in me: I am myself alone.

“Clarence, beware, for you are keeping me from the light, from my golden-crowned goal. But I will arrange a pitch-black day for you, for I will buzz abroad rumors of such prophecies that Edward IV shall fear for his life, and then, to purge his fear by lancing and bloodletting, I’ll be your death.

“King Henry VI and his son — the Prince — are dead and gone. Clarence, your turn is next, and then the rest who are in line ahead of me to be King of England. I regard myself as worthless until I am the best and highest-ranking person in England.

“I’ll throw your body in another room and triumph, Henry VI, in your day of doom.”

— 5.7 —

In a room of the palace in London were King Edward IV, Queen Elizabeth, Duke George of Clarence, Duke Richard of Gloucester, Lord Hastings, a nurse holding the recently born Prince, and some attendants.

Using the royal plural, King Edward IV said, “Once more we sit on England’s royal throne,repurchased with the blood of enemies.What valiant foemen, similar to autumn’s wheat,have we mown down, at the peak of all their pride!

“We have mown down three Dukes of Somerset, who were threefold renowned as hardy and undoubted champions; two Cliffords, both the father and the son; and two Northumberlands — two braver men never spurred their warhorses at the military trumpet’s sound.

“Along with them, we have mown down the two brave bears, Warwick and Montague, who in their chains fettered the Kingly lion and made the forest tremble when they roared.”

The Earl of Warwick, the Marquess of Montague, and the Earl of Warwick’s father were members of the Neville family, whose crest depicted a rampant — standing — bear chained to a knobby post.

King Edward IV continued, “Thus have we swept suspicion and anxiety from our seat and made our footstool out of security.”

King Edward IV thought that he was safe and secure on the throne, but already Duke Richard of Gloucester was plotting to become King of England. A now rare meaning of “security” is “overconfidence.”

He continued, “Come here, Bess — my Queen — and let me kiss my boy.

“Young Ned, your uncles and I have in our armors stayed awake during the winter’s night and gone on foot in the summer’s scalding heat, so that that you could possess the crown in peace and so that you shall reap the gain of our labors.”

Duke Richard of Gloucester thought, I’ll blast your son’s harvest, if your head were laid in the grave, the way that a storm can blight a harvest by driving the tops of the wheat into the ground, for I am not yet respected in the world. This shoulder of mine was created so thick so that it could heave, and it shall either heave some bodies out of my way, or break my back.

He touched his head and thought, You work out the way to accomplish my goals.

Then he touched his shoulder and thought, And you shall execute the plan.

King Edward IV continued, “Clarence and Gloucester, love my lovely Queen, and kiss your Princely nephew, both of you brothers of mine.”

Duke George of Clarence said, “The duty that I owe to your majesty I seal upon the lips of this sweet babe.”

“Thanks, noble Clarence,” Queen Elizabeth said, “Worthy brother, thanks.”

Duke Richard of Gloucester said, “And, because I love the tree from whence this babe sprang, witness the loving kiss I give the fruit.”

He kissed the recently born Prince and thought, And Judas cried ‘all hail!’ when he meant all harm.

Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss.

Matthew 26:48-49 states, “Now he that betrayed him, had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is he, lay hold on him. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, God save thee, Master, and kissed him” (1599 Geneva Bible).

King Edward IV said, “Now am I seated as my soul delights because I have my country’s peace and my brothers’ loves.”

Duke George of Clarence said, “What does your grace want to do with Queen Margaret? Reignier, her father, has pawned Sicily, Naples, and Jerusalem to the King of France and has sent here the money raised for her ransom.”

“Send her away, and waft her over the sea to France,” King Edward IV said. “And what remains to be done now but that we spend the time with stately triumphs and mirthful comic shows such as are suitable for the pleasure of the court?

“Sound, drums and trumpets!

“Farewell, sour, bitter annoyances! For here, I hope, begins our lasting joy.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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